If you grew up in an Irish family you’ve definitely heard your parents and other adult relatives shout “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” You usually heard it when you’d been caught doing something that the adult relative found less than intelligent. Now you might think said adults were taking the Lord’s name in vain but that isn’t accurate. The Big Three, as we called them, were being brought in as witnesses for the prosecution. They weren’t needed. The adult(s) had already judged you and found you guilty.
It was probably a very fair conviction and we usually deserved some serious punishment. This is because in an Irish family the crimes are often serious. A lot of them would be felonies if authorities less frightening than your parents, aunt, uncles, and older siblings were brought in. It’s the Irish temper.
I’ll cite an example using own of my own misdeeds. I’ll get into other family members later. I was 8 or 9 years old. It was summer and my big sister and I were in our backyard which had a chain link fence. A neighbor boy who was around my sister’s age was outside of the yard. My sister and the boy were talking about typical neighborhood things and he was swinging his belt around. I don’t know why. He was a boy and they always seem to be swinging things around or punching someone.
As I stood there barely paying attention to the pre-teen gossip our neighbor miscalculated his swing and the belt buckle hit my sister on the face. She screeched a little and her hand flew up to cover her cheek. I pulled her hand down and saw a very large, very red welt. This is where the Irish comes out.
There was a pitchfork leaning against the fence. My father had been working in his rose beds just moments before. I picked it up and thrust it as hard as I could at the poor neighbor boy’s belly. To be honest I really did intend to run him through with the pitchfork. My sister’s face was swollen and red!
Fortunately for both the boy and me, the fence stopped the tines before they could do more than leave bruises on his tummy. And that’s when I heard my mother. “JESUS, Mary, and Joseph! What that hell were you trying to do?” I wasn’t hip to rhetorical questions at that age so I started to explain. I believe that particular punishment went on for days. Attempted homicide is, apparently, wrong even if it’s in defense of your sister.
Another near death experience occurred not long after but I was merely a witness. We were visiting cousins in New Jersey. These cousins had what were called “railroad bedrooms.” You had to go through one to get to the next and so on. I was climbing the very steep stairs to my cousin Terry’s room when I heard Bernadette hollering at her sister, Rosemary. Along with the threatening voice I heard two sets of pounding footsteps coming toward the stairs.
Now the cardinal rule in that house was that you couldn’t run on the stairs. They were narrow and steep and ended in the dining room. The dining room floor was tile over cement. In spite of the fact that the adults so often threatened to kill us there was a rule against killing ourselves. But, in spite of the rules I decided that I should immediately turn and run, as fast as I could, down those stairs.
It was a good thing, too, because Rosemary was hot on my heels with Bernadette right behind her. And Bernie wasn’t just chasing Rosemary. She was chasing her brandishing one of the old-fashioned can openers with that sharp little thing that stuck out on the end. I don’t know why Bernie happened to have a can opener in her bedroom. Maybe she’d calmly collected it from the kitchen in a planned attempt to kill her sister.
So there I was, fleeing an imminent trampling and Rosemary and Bernadette were also racing full speed down the stairs. Bernadette was hollering, “I’ll gut ya like a fish!” which explained the reason for the can opener, although a good chef’s knife, in my opinion, would have been better. Most of the adults were outside but my cousin John (father to victim and perpetrator) was sitting in the living room reading the newspaper. For one brief moment I thought he’d step in and halt the impeding homicide.
But, in an Irish family death threats are kind of a part of everyday life. John didn’t even lower his paper. He said only two things; “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, haven’t I told you not to run on the stairs?” and, “Put the can opener back when you’re done with it!”
And that is a bit of growing up in an Irish family.
Just wait until you read about Aunt Margaret!
Images courtesy http://myirishguide.com/